Sunday, May 1, 2011

Running without running

My reply to a comment in a prior post reminded me I haven't talked much about the transition from preparing to run (via exercise and stretching, to be described in greater detail in a future post) to actually running.

Once the body is made strong enough to run (via exercise), and is made capable of the range of motion needed to run (via stretching), how do we best proceed from being stationary to eventually running?

The key element of this process is training the muscles to fire with the basic order and timing (the muscle firing 'pattern') needed for running.  For me, this process has two intermediate steps or stages between being stationary and running: 
  1. Running in-place (at a nominal 190 bpm cadence).
  2. Jogging (also at a 190 bpm cadence).
I really like running in-place for several reasons:
  1. It is easy to get the legs to move at the rapid 190 bpm cadence, since there is no need to simultaneously generate forward propulsion.
  2. It gradually builds calf muscles in precisely the way needed for running.
  3. It is impossible to run in-place on your heels!
  4. It develops dynamic balance with no risk of falling.
  5. Impact can easily be varied from zero to the level seen in light running.
  6. There is minimal torque on the joints, especially the knees and hips.
Running in-place must start gradually.  Initially, only the heels leave the ground.  When it becomes easy to sustain the 190 bpm cadence for several minutes, then the toes may be lifted barely clear of the ground.  When this becomes easy, then the toes may be lifted higher, until they reach half-way up the shin, at which point the foot impact will approximate that of running, and significant arm swing will be needed to permit this to be sustained comfortably.

Another neat feature of running in-place is that there is an easy, even trivial, transition to jogging:  Rather than putting the foot down in the same place, it is instead placed an inch forward of its prior place.  Then two inches.  Then 4 inches.  Then the length of the foot.  This can be done gradually, over days or weeks, to ensure propulsion skills are developed smoothly.  And it is all done at a constant and uniform cadence.

When the stride has lengthened to where the feet no longer overlap, then that meets my minimal definition of jogging.  Beyond this point, a more forceful arm swing comes into play.

The process continues, always at a constant 190 bpm cadence, until the stride lengthens enough to permit the forward speed to increase until a pace of 10:30 minutes per mile is reached and exceeded, at which point the definition of running has also been reached.

Notice how seamless and smooth the flow is from being stationary to running.  There is no sudden change anywhere along the path.  All aspects of the gait can be continuously monitored and adjusted well before any issues cause discomfort, pain or injury.

If you have problems running, see if you have problems jogging.  If you have problems jogging, see if you have problems running-in-place.  If you have problems running-in-place, ensure you have the required strength and flexibility.  If you lack strength, do exercises.  If you lack flexibility, do stretches.

If you have problems doing exercises or stretches, see your doctor!

Or, if you presently don't run at all, do the above in reverse:
  1. See your doctor: Ensure there is no reason for you not to do light running.
  2. Strengthen your legs with focused exercises.
  3. Develop the required flexibility via careful stretching.
  4. Start running in-place at 190 bpm.
  5. Start adding tiny amounts of forward motion.
  6. Proceed to jogging.
  7. Add more forceful arm swinging.
  8. Proceed to running.
That's it.  That's the condensed version of my complete recipe for turning a non-runner (typically an ex-runner) into a runner.  Additional details will be spelled out in future posts.


  1. Just curious: why is a 10:30 pace "the definition of running"...?

  2. 10:30/mile is the slowest pace I found that requires most beginners and ex-runners to put in a level of effort that is significantly more difficult than slow jogging, a pace where good form makes a very clear contribution to both speed and efficiency. It is also the fastest pace I found below which relatively few running injuries occur.

    If you look at the Wikipedia entry for jogging, you will see 10:00 mentioned. Others use 11:00/mile as the pace that separates jogging from running. And I've met good runners who consider anything slower than an 8:00 pace to be jogging.

    There is no single universally agreed upon definition of the line between jogging and running.

    For my purpose, to get beginners and ex-runners running with comfort, 10:30 seems to be the best place to draw the line. That particular speed fits well into the training plan.

    It is also a good "Git 'er Home" pace that many fit people can sustain after bonking. I see too many exhausted runners lapse into a really bad jogging gait that punishes them. To prevent injury, I'd rather make jogging off-limits, and encourage people to stop completely and rest for a few minutes, eat a snack, drink, then resume running. Walking is safe, but the transition back to running for an exhausted runner is very injury prone, so I advocate a complete stop.

    The goal is for running for beginners and re-beginners to be comfortable and injury-free. I want to help create runners who can run for the rest of their lives, and not burn out or leave the sport due to injury. Putting the run/jog line at 10:30 serves that goal fairly well.