Good Form Running Drills - Posture and Mid-foot Strike

Here are 3 drills that will promote good form running relating to your posture and mid-foot strike. By repeating the drills over and over again you are creating muscle memory so good form running can become more natural for you. 

HOP AND STOP - Bounce on one leg with body and hips slightly leaning forward. Hop forward and backward over a line. Try and stop on demand. If you can keep your balance you are landing with the right mid-foot strike. If you are too far back, you will fall backward, if too forward, you will fall forward. 
Practice with 3 or 4 sets each lasting around 30 - 60 seconds.   

DONKEY KICKS - Standing on one leg, get into proper posture by raising your hands over your head. Lean slightly forward making sure your hips move forward with your body and move (kick) the other leg back and forward behind you. This promotes good running posture and lengthening your stride behind you. 
Practice with 3 sets each doing 15 kicks per leg. 
Here's a great demo. Donkey Kicks

KNEE RAISE HOPS - Skip forward while doing high knees. In a sense you are Exaggerating  good form by raising knees, landing on mid-foot and swinging arms. Worry more about getting height on your skip rather than how fast you get to your finish line. Pay attention to how your foot is landing underneath you and with the ball of your foot hitting first and then to your general mid-foot area. It's also good practice for keeping your hips underneath you.
Practice with 3 sets of 25 or 50 yard strides.

Chia Seeds - Running Benefits

Chia seeds are a great addition to any runner's diet, no matter the age. Our youngest (10-years old) is not on-board with chia seeds yet or any other healthy foods for that matter, but we keep hoping for a miracle. We'll save that discussion for another post... 

Chia seeds can provide you with more energy, sharper focus with high levels of omega 3 and 6, increased nerve and muscle reaction, is an anti-inflammatoryand increases hydration. If you can add them into your family diet your child's nutritional running value will increase. These are the two ways we use them.

Wet Seeds
We love to use the chia gel as a fat/binding agent substitute in recipes. To make the gel you simply add the seeds to water. The suggested amount in the article below to make chia gel is 9 parts water to 1 part chia seeds. You then use that gel as the fat substitute. The amount you use as a substitute is up to your family's taste preference. We usually substitute 1/3 or 1/2 the fat (butter or oil) in our recipes. 

We've found that the colder the liquid the longer it takes the seeds to gel. On average you are looking at 15 minutes. As for drinks, our family likes the seeds in an electrolyte or vitamin drink more than plain water. When you have a bunch of seeds in water it can taste a little like cardboard.  

Dry Seeds
Our family has found a convenient way to spread chia seeds on just about anything. We're using a dried chili pepper shaker which has holes big enough to allow the seeds to spread evenly. We tried a black pepper dispenser but the seeds were just a little too big. Using a spoon from the sack to the food always ends up with a few dropped seeds on the counter and floor. 

By having the seeds in the dried chili pepper shaker we can keep it out on the counter which encourages us to use it more often. The seeds have a very mild taste which allows you to use them on anything.  

More Detail and Additional Resources Information

Altra Instinct Shoe Review

The second I put on Altra Instinct shoes my feet were comfortable. At the time my left Plantar Facia was acting up and I was looking for help. I had been running in zero shoes for a few years and then got a pair of trail shoes and used them for both trail and road. I didn't think the 12mm lift in the trail shoes would make a difference if I still ran on my mid-foot. I was wrong.

I couldn't take the Altra's off because they were so comfortable. I find it interesting that their comfort has become known in groups of senior citizens who likely wear them because their wide toe box and slipper like feel. In fact, I have taken my retired Altra Instincts, cleaned off the bottoms and made them my house slippers. I've never done that with any other pair of running shoes.

Even though I love them I do have some wishes for future models.

  1. First off, the colors aren't anything to get excited about. Your kids won't be making a fashion statement which makes it a little harder to get them into these great shoes. 
  2. The tongue of the shoe has a tendency to slide over during a run.
  3. The rubber on the bottom of the Instincts is soft and comfortable but if you weigh 165 pounds or more don't expect to get more than 300 miles out of them. 
Shoe on left made it 300 miles. Shoe on right made it 450 miles.

We've had four pairs of Instincts in our family and our teenagers have loved them too. Even though they won't be winning any fashion awards they have an odd cuteness about them and most importantly they help you run with better form. Our kids noticed this on their first run and quickly became converted.

Here is a summary of how long the Instincts have lasted according to body weight. 

165lbs: Logged 300 miles (shoes retired)

145lbs: Logged 225 miles (still using)

125lbs: Logged 445 miles (still using)

115lbs: Logged 450 miles (shoes retired)

I would fully recommend getting your child into a pair of Altra's which will help them improve their form and stay injury free. They run around $100.

Our mid-foot strike first hits on the outside which was the first area to wear out.

My son's shoes have 445 miles on them and are still going strong thanks to his more level mid-foot strike.

Oatmeal and Protein Powder - After Run Meal

Here is a great after run meal to be eaten 15-30 minutes post exercise. This will give you a 3:1 carb to protein ratio which is ideal for quick recovery. This comes kid approved with my daughter saying, "It's yummy!"

1/2 cup oatmeal (27g carbs)
1 tbsp chia seeds (6g carbs)
1 tbsp agave (16g carbs)
1 scoop protein powder (16g protein)

Inspirational Running Movies

Here are some of the most inspirational movie segments you can show your kids to help them get excited for the next race.

Running Shoes Are Kind of Like Children...

For starters, running shoes DO make a difference. Years ago I made the same mistake that you may have made in thinking that any running shoe from a big company will be fine. You end up shopping in the clearance section and at big sporting goods store while trusting a shoe salesman that doesn't even run or perhaps runs 5 or 6 miles a week. I'll save you ten + years of trial and error by sharing the following.
  • I say this jokingly but it helps illustrate a point. Running shoes are like children, they all have different strengths and qualities. Knowing how to use those qualities allow you to enjoy the shoe much more. 
  • Shop for running shoes at a place where avid runners are the sales people. The shoes might be a little more expensive up front but because you are more likely to get into the right shoe it is cheaper in the long run. It's cheaper because you avoid injury and also a trip to the store to buy a better pair.
  • Start your child off with shoes that promote a proper stride.  Saucony Kinvara has youth and adult sizes. Altra running shoes will soon have youth sizes and adult shoes cut specifically for men and women feet. Other quality brands with minimalist shoes are New Balance and Brooks.
  • A running shoe lasts for years, but it should only be ran on for the first 300-600 miles (your weight and running form determine where you fall on the spectrum). If your child is wearing their shoes to school and playing around in them after school you need to factor in those "miles" as well. If you're not into factoring things out you can go by a general rule of thumb that children under 12 should replace their running shoes each year, teens in Jr. High and High School should be getting new running shoes every six months of running.
  • If you have a child in high-school it is wise to have two pairs of running shoes (different brands) they rotate every other run. This provides time for each shoe to decompress and also provide the foot with a little different feel each run so repetitive injuries are avoided.
Although running shoes are like children they don't get better with age. If you want your child to be serious with running you'll need to get serious about shoes. Shoes will be your most expensive item in this sport, but if you take the time to find the right shoe they will keep your child running rather than sidelined with injury.

Age Appropriate Running for Parental Expectations

There are a few things that I can single out in our family that has made a significant difference to how we interact with each other. Those things of most importance are faith based for us, but after faith what shapes your family dynamics? For us, it has been running but the principle behind it is that we are all doing the same activity. We talk the same talk, get excited about the same things, have conversation points that keep lines of communication open, etc, etc.

If you are wanting to get your children involved and have a similar experience there are healthy and unhealthy ways to approach it. The biggest problem of course is putting too much pressure on your kids, or expecting too much out of them. It's hard to know what is appropriate and what is not. Runner's World wrote an article that we have referenced to help know as parents what our expectations should be. Here is the link, Runner's World Article - "Youth Movement"  Enjoy...

Running Form and Technique

When I was in high school we were taught to have a long stride and to roll the foot from heel to toe. My eye twitches as I think about how inefficient I was and am thankful for the increase in studies and education runners are benefiting from today. When my daughter first started to run she was naturally good at long distance races and had a long stride with a roll from heel to toe. This is how you run when you have on shoes that promote a walking technique when running. 
During the same year I started learning about mid-foot running and my daughter quickly started to adapt her stride as we talked and practiced together. It doesn't come automatically for most people and it didn't for us either. It took about a year of habit forming before she would run the right way without thinking about it. The main point is that you can learn to run a different way. Some argue that you can't change your natural stride but anyone who has put effort into this knows from experience your stride CAN be changed.
In the spirit of keeping these posts simple and easy to read I'll provide a quick summary and then link you to the two best overviews I've found on the web. 
  1. For starters, you need to get your child into shoes that promote the right stride. Take a look at my postings about running shoes to see more detail and suggested brands.
  2. Make sure your runner has a slightly forward lean when running. Their chest should be over their toes. 
  3. Arms need to swing on the side of their body rather than coming across their chest. Also, arms need to pump backward which helps create more power and speed. 
  4. When the foot hits the ground it should be on the mid-foot or ball of the foot. As runners try to get the hang of this they sometimes over-compensate and run on their toes. This can cause shin splints or stressed arches so don't go to end of the spectrum and expect better results. 
  5. Rather than running 80 longer strides it is better to run 180 shorter strides. You will see articles that refer to this as "cadence", meaning how many rotations your leg has made in a minute. Shorter strides naturally promote a mid-foot strike as well as less impact on your legs. Less impact means less risk for injury.
We have found that proper form will help you run faster, but there are runners who are just as fast with improper form. To us the greatest benefit of proper running is less injury. If your child has less risk of injury they can train harder and more consistently, which in the end will help them reach their potential and find success.

More Detail and Resources

Find Your Child's Running Strengths

When I ran track I had much greater success when trailing my opponent for most of the race and then breaking out on the closing 100 meters and passing them at the end. When my daughter first started running I naively suggested she should do the same because that is what I did. I soon found out that she didn't have the same kick I did so I thought, "We need to improve her kick." She managed success but we could both tell she wasn't hitting her potential. I finally realized as a parent that she was different. She has a different muscle make up than I do so it was much more productive to develop a strategy based on her strengths rather than mine! Now, she takes advantage of her high levels of slow twitch muscles and goes out fast at the start and maintains that speed throughout the race, which has worked much better for her.  
Generally speaking there are three different types of runners. The differences are created by the types of muscle fibers in each person.
  1. Sprinter - Those good at sprinting have higher levels of fast twitch muscle fibers which are more efficient when oxygen is scarce. Events that these runners excel at are usually 400, 200, and 100 meter races. 
  2. Mid-Distance - These runners have a good mix between fast and slow twitch fibers. They may find they are not exceptional at short or long distances but excel at mid-distance races. These mainly include the 800 and mile, but they can also find success in the 400 and 2-mile.
  3. Long Distance - On the other end of the spectrum you have long distance runners who have higher levels of slow twitch fibers which use oxygen more efficiently. Events that these runners excel in are the 2-mile and cross country races. They can also see success in the mile but start to see a decline in success with the 800. 
The article listed below says, "Our muscle fiber type may influence what sports we are naturally good at or whether we are fast or strong. Olympic athletes tend to fall into sports that match their genetic makeup. Olympic sprinters have been shown to possess about 80 percent fast twitch fibers, while those who excel in marathons tend to have 80 percent slow twitch fibers."

More detail and resources

Become a Passionate Parent

I know you've seen those parents who are yelling to their kids as they race down the track and thought, "I'm embarrassed for you..." Before we pass too much judgement let's look at a couple of things. First of all, I don't think there is anything wrong with having passion behind your kids activities. In fact, that is what I encourage. The important thing is to channel that passion into productive mentoring that will help your child reach their potential. There will be other postings on the blog that will address how we can effectively channel that passion as a parent, but for now let's agree that passion and excitement is a good thing. 

I sometimes wonder if some parents who want to pursue their own interest rather than giving time to their children rationalize their actions by telling themselves, "I don't want to be a crazy parent so I give my child space and they drive their own interest." While general principles of this thinking are good it can also be a cop-out of a disinterested parent. 

If we channel our passion into mentoring principles, children feel the energy you bring and will feed off that to push themselves beyond their comfort zone. If you become a lecturer and are constantly critical of their work you will contribute to their burn out. Mentoring principles put you in a position of creating learning environments, asking effective questions, and letting them discover the answer themselves. Becoming a passionate parent will not only help your child be more successful, it will also provide you with years of satisfaction. 

Massage - Injury Prevention and Parent Time

The value of massaging sore muscles has proven itself in our home. All of us have managed to avoid serious injury and recovered faster from minor injuries thanks to a regular schedule of massages. We've made it a family tradition now and it has become a priceless time with my children. Each night our bedtime routine involves a massage and a lot of talking. It's a great time to talk and listen and at the same time help your child stay injury free.

 We have an electric massager that does all the work. All I have to do is move it around on the right muscles so there's no need to be a graduate from your local massage therapy school. There are two basic types of massages that will help your athlete continue to run hard and fast.

 The first type of rub down focuses on the outer lining of the muscle tissue. Muscles are wrapped in a connective tissue called fascia and helping that tissue to relax is an important step. Lighter massages primarily help relax the outer tissue and secondarily help relax the actual muscle. Our electric massager is really good at doing this and it can be done a regular basis.

The second type of rub down focuses on deep tissue and is much less enjoyable. We use a rolling pin and apply different amounts of pressure on each muscle group. The hamstrings and gluts can handle the most pressure, then your quads (front of legs) and then your calfs. If you press too hard you can bruise your child so I suggest having them first massage you. It will give you a good idea on pressure and movements so you can perfect it on your kids. Muscles have to rebuild from a deep tissue massage so never do this right before a race. Also, have them drink a large cup of water to help flush out the toxins you just released in their body.

The ideal time to do a deep tissue massage and have your kid's legs bounce back with more energy is 3-5 days prior to the race.

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Race Prayer - Positive Thoughts

Our son entered Jr. High this year and joined the cross country and track teams. He immediately saw success which has hooked him into this great sport.

As he was continuing to win races and improve on his personal best times my daughter asked him how he was doing it?

I shouldn't have been surprised by his response, but admittedly I was. He said one of the things he does during the race is pray. I could easily see how this practice has helped him and since then my daughter has also implemented the "race prayer" technique, which has also proven helpful for her.

Prayer causes you to think in the positive and when your mind is in the positive it can accomplish much more. Positive thoughts seem to provide more energy and a greater ability to focus, two essential ingredients to winning the mind game in mid and long distance races.

Are Regional and National Races Worth It?

We faced the impending question about how serious we were going to get with running when our daughter wanted to make a trip across the United States and run with a local club in the USATF Jr. Olympic Cross Country National Championship. It was the beginning of December and our Christmas expenses seemed tough enough to handle. A parent in the group said, "It's just a race, is this really worth it?" It's a question all parents ask themselves and eventually have to answer.

We decided to try out the experience and in the process learned some valuable lessons. The first lesson was that, YES, it is worth it. Here are the top 3 reasons why it is worth sending your child and burdening the family with some additional expenses.

1) Running at a larger than normal event with the best of the best is a great confidence boost to your child's self-esteem. Once they run in these events they feel as if they are no longer an average runner. That boost in confidence is worth every penny.

2) More than likely they will discover they are better than they thought they were and that momentum will help them in their running season. If your child realizes they are not as good as they thought they were then that is a positive too since it will help them adjust their expectations to a more realistic level. From there they can start to build themselves up again as they reach more obtainable goals.

3) Your child will realize they are not wierd. They love to run and probably eat heathier than their friends and work out more than their friends which can bring the unwanted spotlight on them. Friends can get jealous and start making little remarks. When your child attends these events they meet others who have similar goals and ambitions which creates a nice comodery you often times can't find at home.

By the way, the club team our daughter ran on ended up winning the National Championship for Sophomores and Juniors. This drawing was done by the girls on the airplane ride home. Even though they go to different high schools they still keep in touch with each other and occasionally do long runs together. 

What's The Difference With Racing Shoes?

Even after being an avid running dad for a few years I was surprised to find there are different categories of racing shoes. Each category of shoe makes a difference so hopefully this little summary will help when you enter the store and see a wall full of spikes. Try to help your kid resist the temptation of merely choosing the shoe that looks the coolest and get into something that will provide them a good racing experience.

Spikes versus Flats - For mid and long distance runners (800m-5k) you don't always need to wear spikes on the track. The only time spikes should be worn for sure is if the track or field is wet. There is a shoe called a "running flat" and is essentially the same weight as a spike shoe without the spikes. Some runners find them more comfortable so it's good to know that your child can wear either one and not suffer on performance. The red and white shoe is a popular racing flat that can be worn by boys and girls.

Sprinting Spikes versus Cross Country Spikes - There are spikes made specifically for sprints and others for mid distance and cross country. Sprinting spikes are usually made with stiffer material and most of the weight, support, and grip is centered under the front of the foot. Cross country spikes usually support the foot better so the risk for injury is less. Long distance spikes have a little more substance under the entire foot bed like the Saucony Endorphin (black and pink) shoes below. The black Nike spikes are for sprinting and have an added velcro strap to keep the foot from slipping. Both types of spikes can look similar so it's valuable to know the basics before entering a store. The yellow and black spikes above are another example of mid and long distance spikes.

By shopping at a specialty running shoe store you'll increase the odds of getting your child in the right shoe.

You Know You're a Parent of a Runner If...

10) You find your kid(s) stretching while standing in line.
9) You schedule vacations around running or running events.
8) Your child has more running clothes than school clothes.
7) Your child happily runs 3-miles but seems exhausted when asked to do 10-minutes of chores.
6) Your child wants new running shoes before school shoes.
5) Your child's old running shoes are their school shoes.
4) You find yourself telling your child to have a treat now and then.
3) Your new supply of bread suddenly disappears.
2) Your family budget includes an amount for running stuff.
1) Someone once told you that running was an inexpensive sport.