I see a lot of people with improper running form. It's one of those things that can be annoying to get used to if you've gotten used to bad form, but its really worth switching over to a more productive form. That's not to say that it completely necessary to be an amazing runner - my Track coach run's a 1:49 800 (half a mile) and he has one of the most ridiculous looking arm swings ever. My point with this article is that its just something that's a good idea to get used to - especially if you run competitively, as what I'm going to go over essentially maximizes energy efficiency. You don't need to be a physics major to see the benefits here.
General PhilosophyWhen you're running in a race you want to go one direction: forward. In this sense you want all your energy and movement directed forward, in front of your body.
Believe it or not, arms are one of the more important things for running form. If you've ever seen sprinters in Track you'll see that they have very powerful and toned fore-arms, biceps, triceps, and deltoids (arms and shoulders). Now even though I'm mainly addressing form for a distance runner here, its still worth considering. The number one mistake I constantly see people make with their form is that they cross their arms in front of their body. From a physics standpoint, this is simply inefficient. You're constantly giving yourself momentum to the left and right when crossing the arms when you could be focusing it all forward. It may feel awkward to run with your arms swing forwards at all times, but you'll get used to it.
Its also generally a good idea to swing your arms harder and stronger than you think you would need to. Most people do so pretty lightly. This is one of those things that is more personal preference, but you definitely will see the better runners pumping hard their arms in most cases.
This one is usually more natural for people to get right, but I still see some runners moving their legs in a manner that is just hurting their times. The main thing again is putting your momentum forward. Some runners have a tendency to bounce up and down much higher than they need to when running. This puts unnecessary strain on the calves and wastes energy. On the other side of the equation are people who I call shufflers. They barely bring their feet off of the ground when running and sometimes even skim their feet across it. The key is to find a balance between bouncing too much and bouncing too little. Also, make sure to really bring you legs up when running. Not as exaggerated as if you were doing high knees or butt kicks, but, again, you don't want to be shuffling around penguin-style.
As for the feet, there's quite a bit of debate as to what's best. Most experts will agree that its best to touch down with the heel first and then bring the rest of the foot down. This will usually lessen the overall impact and save you some knee and shin pain. Some people recommend coming down on the toes to lessen the time your feet are on the ground so you can run faster. When I do this it tires me a lot faster. I stick to the former, more conventional impact method, but you should experiment with both.
I'm not a sprinter, but its definitely important for distance runners to also know how to sprint at the end of the race, aka kicking for you racing newbies. Basically you want to exaggerate everything I've gone over thus far in this article. Your arms should be pumping hard and fast, still going forward, parallel to your path of travel. Your legs should be coming up higher than normal. It's easier to go faster if you only touch you upper foot and toes to the ground when sprinting, as I describes as an alternative leg form above. Also, its okay if you hurt during this final 400 to 800 meters. I've been known to make some ridiculous faces crossing the finish line. My general racing agenda is to speed up the last 800 meter or so and then break into a full sprint for the last 100 to 150 meters. Experiment to find what work for you - everyone's a little different.
Bring your legs up high for these, almost to the point you would in a high knees warm-up. Your calves will be burning but keep going. It's also a good idea to lean forward into the hill, it'll make it easier to go up faster. Don't forget to pump your arms hard to drive you up the hill and you'll probably find it easier to land on your toes as you would when sprinting.
- Its natural for people who are still getting used to a better running form to switch back to their old one when they're tired. Focus on keeping all your movement forward.
- This one kind of goes along with the one above, but I sometimes find it helpful to just focus on my form when I'm getting tired during a race - it helps to take the mind off of less productive things.