Since a failed attempt at going sub 2:45 in the 2017 London Marathon, I decided I needed to look at new areas to drive my improvement.  In truth, there were several reasons that the attempt was unsuccessful, one of the key ones being I had not gone over 20 miles in the build up often enough.  So, looking back, it is no surprise that I was roughly on PB pace at the 30km mark.  What happened after that was not fun.  It was painful.  But I am actually really proud that I kept going and managed to sneak under the 3 hour mark in 2:59.  It wasn’t the time I wanted but it is a run from which I learnt a lot about myself.

So what had I been doing and what needed to be done?  I had been running well.  I had completed regular fast runs.  I had not done enough runs in the 20 to 22 mile range.  My longer runs had not included many sections of faster running.  All things I could work out for myself.  Then I spoke to a friend, who off the back of an injury and limited training, had also dipped under the 3 hour mark.  He had been seeing an Edinburgh based running coach and he eulogised about the value of the sessions.  I had never had specific coaching – so it was time to seek advice.

I was pleased to hear that my technique was pretty solid.  However, there were a significant number of areas that could be developed to make me more efficient…so important for the later miles when fatigue is setting in.

So what are my technical focus areas?

Arm Swing – look at the worlds best and you will see a continuous, deliberate and relaxed arm swing.  Picture Sir Mo in the final lap of recent races and you will know exactly what I mean.  Then look at mass participation events and you will see some runners who do not swing their arms at all.  I did use my arms but they did not swing freely.  I looked more like a robot moving my arms in a way that lacked fluency and grace.  My elbows did not drive backwards and hung too far from the side of my body.  There were also times when my arm reached too far forward at faster speeds and I lost the connection and rhythm in my running.  If this was a picture of my normal running technique, you can imagine the worry about problems that may crop up in the final 6 miles of a marathon?

As a result I have made several changes that are now (almost a year on) fairly automatic.  I have an elbow angle of less than 90 degrees.  It saves energy.  I do not let my arm reach so far ahead of my body.  The result is a better rhythm and a more connected action.  I have also worked hard at my upper thoracic mobility so that my arms can swing freely.  Focussing on relaxation has also been a key focus and contributes to flow and rhythm.  In terms of statistics this has resulted in better horizontal force and less bounce.  When I started the process my Garmin regularly showed a vertical ratio of around 11%.  This meant too much energy was going upwards and I was not skimming the ground and moving forward.  Having now developed a significantly more efficient arm action, when running at race pace, I am often down between 6% and 7%.  A 4% improvement in efficiency is not something that should be sniffed at.

Standing Tall – at only 5 feet 8 inches this may be a contradiction in terms.  However, focussing on and maintaining an upright position has paid dividends.  I aim for a small forward lean from ankle to hips.  Originally my hips were a few inches behind my ankle when my foot was striking the ground.  This meant a small over stride and a breaking action each time my foot hit the ground.  By standing taller and improving the mobility of the hip area, my foot strikes underneath my hip (on a good day) and helps me generate forward momentum (horizontal force).  All being well this means a PB in Paris on April 8th and my goal of a sub 2:45 marathon.

Cadence – part of my over stride was down to a slow cadence.  The arms are swinging to set the tempo and my body position is more efficient when striking the ground.  As a result my feet are not getting stuck underneath me as much.  My ground contact time is down and my cadence is up around 190 – 200 spm.  This is a focus point when I am tired in training.  Keep the cadence high.  Shorter faster strides are more efficient and help get me through the tough times late in the race – or at least that is the plan.

I will be reporting back on exactly how this helped me after my Paris Marathon experience.