Thursday, May 24, 2007

Doing the Holger

Since my ocean swim was cut rather short yesterday I tried going for a little longer run. I have been working on my speed lately and usually that means intervals. I do a good 5 to 10 minute warm up at a 12 minute per mile pace and then try to kick it up a notch to a 10 minute mile pace for around five minutes. My heart rate usually jumps up to 90% and then I rest by slowing back down to a 12 minute per mile pace for five minutes or so. Then I just repeat this over again for the rest of the session. So far this has been a success. I have noticed a decline in my heart race for relatively higher speeds. I can now run about an eleven minute pace at the same heart rate that I used to get from a twelve minute pace.

I also have to work on my form. As I increase my speed there are opportunities to improve my form. For example, a common drill that runners do is butt kicks. You run and try to get you legs to continue up past horizontal after each push-off until they touch you butt. This is really exhausting to do if you are running slowly, but as your speed increases these kinds of drills make more sense. If you are running slowly and have a proper cadence (around 90 steps per minute) then your stride is very short and it would take a whole lot of extra energy to push you legs back that far. All that extra energy is just wasted, but as you increase your speed your stride opens up and it becomes more natural. As speed increases raising your leg behind you actually becomes an energy saver in that it decreases the length of your leg as it swings forward with each stride. Why is this important? Because you leg acts as a pendulum when it swings forward, and the shorter the pendulum the quicker it will swing simply from the force of gravity, and it will require less work from your hip flexors. Essentially, you can move faster and use less energy, which is what running efficiency is all about.

Another aspect of form to pay attention to is the arms. Most runners keep their arms at about a ninety degree bend at the elbows. Ideally you pump the arms straight forward and back and minimize the movement of the shoulders and torso. Moving your arms takes much less energy that your shoulders or core. You may have noticed that some runners, as fatigue begins to set in, tighten the shoulders and raise their arms. All this does is cost the runner more energy. By decreasing the arm angle the arms are becoming shorter, and as short pendulums they require less energy to move, but unlike the legs this is not a good thing. This is because the movement of your arms is to counter balance the movement of your legs. Without a strong pumping of the arms the entire upper body and core will have to compensate by moving. Your shoulders will move back and forth and this is much more costly in energy terms than moving your arms.

I tried something out the other day that I call “Doing the Holger.” I mentioned Holder Beckmann before, another member of my tri club. He is a great athlete and a great guy, but he does have a unique running style. As you can see from the photo he keeps his arms almost straight as he runs. It looks a little unusual, but actually it is not that uncommon among endurance runners. My theory on this style is that by lengthening the arms he is creating large pendulums that can easily counter balance his legs without moving very much. Less movement means less energy expenditure and more efficiency.

So I tried it out. It definitely feels strange at first, but as I got into a groove I looked down at my Polar S625x heart rate monitor to check my speed, and I was going a whole mile per hour faster than my usual ten minute per mile pace with no noticeable increase in heart rate. It was really working! So I kept it up and averaged six point six miles per hour for the last third of my five and a half mile run. Another breakthrough.

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